"Insistent as anesthetic": Difficult similes subserving the poetic context

Roi Tartakovsky*, Yeshayahu Shen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has identified a type of nonstandard simile in which the ground is a non-salient feature of the source term (for example, the nonstandard hard as a lamp as opposed to the standard hard as a rock), and found this type to be common in poetry and much rarer in non-poetic discourse. Since these nonstandard similes entail a fundamental semantic breach and violation of a basic convention of the simile, how can their existence be explained? Here we claim that it is the poetic context itself, the poem within which these similes appear, which is the key to explaining their existence and their unique advantage. Through a series of poetic examples, including poems by Plath, Lee, and Rukeyser, we show how the semantic difficulty of the nonstandard simile serves the poem and fulfils various functions within it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Literary Semantics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1683/19


    • cognitive poetics
    • figurative language
    • poem
    • poetic context
    • simile


    Dive into the research topics of '"Insistent as anesthetic": Difficult similes subserving the poetic context'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this